NASA astronaut flies on Russian rocket for the first time since Ukraine invasion

A Russian cosmonaut will soon also fly aboard a SpaceX rocket launching from U.S. soil.
Chris Young
The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft at launch.
The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft at launch.

Source: NASA / Twitter 

A U.S. astronaut joined two Russian cosmonauts on a trip aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS), despite tensions between both countries over Russia's Ukraine invasion.

The mission took off from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:54 a.m. EDT (13:54 GMT) on Wednesday, September 21. The crew, including NASA's Frank Rubio and Russia's Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, docked at the ISS four hours later.

Russia launches a U.S. astronaut to the ISS

Both NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos live streamed the launch, which was a rare example of U.S.-Russia cooperation in recent months. Commentators mentioned shortly after the launch that the crew were "feeling well."

The three are set to spend six months aboard the ISS. They have joined up with three other Russian cosmonauts, three other U.S. astronauts, and one Italian European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut.

Rubio became the first U.S. astronaut to launch to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Western governments, including President Biden's administration, retaliated by hitting Russia with unprecedented aerospace, targeting the country's aerospace industry and other sectors.

The ESA's Samantha Cristoforetti, the first European female ISS commander, shared an image on Twitter showing the view from the ISS of the Soyuz rocket as it was launching towards the orbital station. "Looking forward to welcoming them to their new home," she wrote.

SpaceX will soon launch a Russian cosmonaut

Russia's only female cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, will soon also fly aboard SpaceX's Crew-5 mission to the ISS, which is scheduled to launch on October 3. Kikina will become only the fifth Russian female cosmonaut to fly to space, and she will be the first Russian to fly aboard a SpaceX rocket since the company first started launching crewed missions in May 2020.

Russia recently announced it would ditch the ISS in response to U.S. sanctions. First, though, it will carry out its contractual obligations, which run to the year 2024. NASA, on the other hand, announced it will extend ISS operations through 2030.

The ISS is split into two sections: the U.S. and Russian orbital segments. The orbital station currently relies on a Russian propulsion system to stay in orbit, while the U.S. segment provides electricity and life support systems.

Russia recently unveiled a model of its own in-development orbital station, nicknamed "Ross," though some space analysts say that project will struggle due to ongoing sanctions against Russia's space industry. Though NASA plans to keep the ISS orbital until about 2030, it is also planning for life after the international orbital laboratory by funding private orbital station projects, including Jeff Bezos' Orbital Reef.

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